Backcountry Kitchen Essentials: Pt 4: Dehydrating canned food for backcountry meals.
Is there anything more exciting than preparing for a trip to the mountains? I'd argue the mere potential of seeing wildlife and stepping foot in few places that others have wondered is reason enough to keep me coming back for more. In the same breath, I'd say there's very little that produces as much anxiousness in me as the preparation involved with venturing into these remote places.
In an effort to ease some of that pre-trip preparation anxiety, outdoor enthusiasts are usually curious to know if there's anything they can do to make the meal planning piece of the preparation easier. Cue canned goods…
Canned Goods It seems too good to be true that they sodium-laden cylindrical cans lining the middle aisle of supermarkets may have a place in your pack, but they do. Of course, I'm not suggesting to a group of gram-counting outdoorsmen and women to throw a can of soup in your pack and head to your favorite hunting spot. Instead, I'm asking you to consider the possibilities lingering in that aisle if you remove the water and heavy aluminum can. I've dehydrated cans of store-bought chili, pulled pork, and other goodies to add to meals for the backcountry. Some of these have had sub-par results, while some have been standouts. Here are a few good suggestions to get you started:
1. Canned Chili: I prefer this brand for two reasons: (1) you can pick it up with 99% fat-free ground Turkey. This is like dehydration-gold. Other canned chili products you'll find use a ground meat with high-fat content making the package prone to spoilage after dehydrated and stored. (2) You can get it with or without beans depending on how tolerant your camping buddy is of your flatulent choral ensemble in the middle of the night. And, if we're honest; the smell from your sweat pits will be the last aroma you're worried is chasing elk off. The one drawback to going chili sans-beans is trading in 20g of muscle fueling carbohydrate per can. You can offset this by throwing some rice in with the chili mix at camp.
2. Spaghettio's: Google "Spaghettio" and you get 347,000 results. No wonder we're so confused by what to eat. Go for the plain version, there's no need to overcomplicate this. One can of this stuff yields 10g of protein and a whopping 70g of rapid-digesting carbohydrates. Neither of these numbers is what you want to aim for at supper time with the family. However, when you're in the mountains, this equates to fuel shoveled on top of a furnace burning white with heat. Consider adding in TVP to bolster the protein content of the meal.
3. Canned Soups: Unlike its aforementioned canned counterpart, the best part about dehydrating canned soups is the variety it offers without the mess of cooking. Canned soups generally have a reasonable carb-to-protein ratio and decent sodium content to replace whatever was lost via sweat, urine, and exhalation on your trip up the mountain.
Frozen Veggies Maybe it's the Dietitian half of my brain, but I'm constantly looking for ways to add fiber and nutrients to backcountry meals. I think we've all probably experienced the results 3 days in the backcountry a
fter munching on nothing but packaged foods with little fiber.
Freeze-dried vegetables are a great addition to DIY meals, but the cost can add up rather quickly. A cheap, but little-known alternative, is to dehydrate frozen store-bought vegetables.
The first (and essential) step is a quick "blanch" of the vegetables. Blanch is kitchen-speak for a rapid cook and cool process in which begin by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Place the desired vegetables in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Next, you'll want to remove the vegetables from the water with a mesh strainer and insert the vegetables into a bowl of ice water to rapidly cool. This simply stops the rapid ripening of the vegetables by enzymes. Finally, you'll end the process by dehydrating the vegetables as you would anything else and add them to meals as you see fit.
I fully recognize cooking isn't everyone's forte and some would prefer to just take old slices of cheese pizza up the mountain than to cook a dinner. I also won't be the first guy to argue that grabbing a few packaged meals off of the shelf is easy and cuts back on the amount of planning needed for a trip; however, I'd also argue that the simplicity and versatility offered by dehydrating already cooked meals make the process much more appealing to a lot of folks. Bon appetite!
Here's a great DIY backcountry meal with veggies:
Backcountry Chicken "Pot-Pie" • ½ cup couscous • ¾-1 cup Mountain house chicken or DIY dehydrated chicken • ½ cup DIY dehydrated vegetables • 1/2 -1 full teaspoon of poultry seasoning (or thyme if you have no poultry seasoning) • ½-1 full teaspoon of chicken bouillon/chicken base • Salt and pepper to taste • 1.5-2 cups of water. 1. Place all dry ingredients, seasoning, and bouillon in your stove or cooking pot once water is boiling and allow to cook until ingredients are fully cooked. About 10-15 minutes. 2. Drizzle with small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. 3. Enjoy!